Should You Be Selling On Facebook? Early Lessons

College deal site Kembrel embeds its social store in Facebook, but doesn't insist on closing the deal there.

David Carr

August 4, 2011

4 Min Read
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If any population would want to do business with an online merchant on Facebook, you might think college students would be it.

But even for Kembrel, a startup that came to market boasting of being the first private sales store accessible entirely through Facebook, it makes sense to offer Facebook commerce as an option rather than a requirement, said Stephan Jacob, one of the founders. Merchants need to be sensitive to the fact that many Facebook users are wary of "what used to be their space changing, where that sense of community is being--I don't want to say corrupted--but heavily infiltrated by marketers, " he said.

Social media is clearly central to Kembrel's merchandizing, which is largely based on viral marketing tools like getting users to share offers with their friends. Kembrel tracks how much users are sharing and awards them points that can win them access to better deals. Facebook is important to this strategy, as are Twitter and Tumblr. The Kembrel business page on Facebook catalogs the current offers and provides access to all the same shopping cart and checkout functions as the company's website. But most of the transactions still occur on, Jacob said.

So does offering checkout on Facebook even make sense? "There are kind of two answers to that," Jacob said. "There's the technical answer, and the consumer behavior answer." Technically, entering your credit card into a secure Web form embedded in Facebook is just as safe as doing it on a website--either way, it's protected by the same 128-bit SSL encryption. However, for college students and most other consumers, having a credit card checkout form pop up inside Facebook is still a new experience, he said, and it feeds into that sense that a place people come to be social is becoming too commercial. Just as consumers eventually got over their fears of entering their credit cards into an e-commerce website, they will probably warm up to Facebook commerce over time, he said.

Meanwhile, it's important to present the option to those who want to take advantage of it, and the alternative of finishing the transaction on a separate website to those who don't, Jacob said. Similarly, Kembrel encourages students to register on its website with their Facebook credentials, but they can also do it the old fashioned way--with an email address and password--if that's their preference.

One reason some customers are reluctant to register with Facebook is they fear access to their account "will be abused to push content, push merchandize" that they don't want, Jacob said. "We try to be as open, transparent, and non-pushy as we can. If you would like to use your Facebook credentials, you can do that. At the same time, we're not going to force you." And if users do entrust you with their social media credentials, it makes sense to offer them a bonus promotion to make it worthwhile, he said.

The Facebook application programming interfaces make it possible to embed just about any Web application within the frame of the social media service, and a number of e-commerce software and hosted applications now allow you to embed a storefront in Facebook. Doing so is no guarantee of success, however. For one thing, there is a difference between tapping into the basic HTML iFrame integration method Facebook supports and truly taking advantage of the social medium for spreading the news about products and special offers.

Kembrel uses ShopIgniter, a software-as-a-service e-commerce and social selling platform, to power the shopping cart and checkout on both its website and its Facebook page. The Kembrel Facebook page also features apps from Wildfire (sweepstakes) and North Social (music downloads).

Jacob said ShopIgniter has been important to Kembrel's success because its cloud computing service allowed the business to "ramp up very quickly" without having to build the technology infrastructure in-house. "Their team also has a good sense of what works and what doesn't work. The Facebook integration has big advantages because our demographic is very active on the medium, and this lets us take the store to where they are," he said.

ShopIgniter CEO Matt Compton said Kembel's business model, with its emphasis on limited time "flash promotions," is also a good match for the nature of Facebook marketing. Beyond basic e-commerce functionality, his firm's product is designed to help merchants run compelling viral promotions and measure the results, he said. "That combination is far, far more powerful than just slapping your catalog in Facebook."

ERP is old news, but enhancing legacy software with mobile, analytics, and social apps can deliver substantial new value. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek: SaaS can create new data silos unless companies follow best practices to make those apps work with on-premises systems and data sources. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

David Carr

Editor, InformationWeek Healthcare and InformationWeek Government (columnist on social business)

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